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How to Build a DIY Aquarium at Home: A Beginner’s Guide

2020-10-27

DIY aquariums are on the rise across the UK, as a growing number of hobbyists and nature lovers look to bring the beauty of a well-stocked fish tank to their homes. But just how easy is it to design and build a successful aquarium? And what kind of work and maintenance does it involve?

To help you take the first steps towards building a DIY aquarium at home, we’ve put together this beginner’s guide with everything you need to know. Use the links below to look around or read on for our full amateur aquarium guide.

Why Build an Aquarium?

If you’ve dabbled with the idea of building an aquarium yourself, here are a few reasons why we think it’s a brilliant idea:

  • Feel closer to the animals you love – caring for and nurturing your own collection of exotic fish is hugely rewarding. Aquarium animals give back more than you might think, making them a wonderful addition to your home.
  • Introduce your family to the diversity of nature – setting up an at-home aquarium gives you the opportunity to introduce your children to a range of different species. From there, you can help them learn about all sorts of things, from conservation to the realities of marine life.
  • Enjoy the benefit of aquarium therapy – increasingly, aquariums are being used as a means of easing stress and anxiety in schools and GP waiting rooms, with the calming effect of watching fish swim proven to alleviate symptoms. Installing an aquarium in your home could prove invaluable in helping you to feel calm and relaxed.
  • A low-maintenance addition to the family – while aquariums do require regular upkeep (which we’ll get to later), they’re certainly more low maintenance than many alternatives. If you want to care for and enjoy interacting with animals without devoting all your time to them, fish are a great option.
  • Build the perfect centrepiece – without question, one of the best things about a DIY aquarium is the amazing colour, vibrancy and interest it can bring to your home. Whether you live in a one-bed flat or a five-bed house, an aquarium makes the ideal talking point, and a great way to feel closer to nature.

Setting Up Your Aquarium Tank: First Steps

Installing an aquarium is an exciting prospect, but before you go out and buy up the whole aquarium aisle, there are a few things to note. If you want your aquarium to provide a happy, healthy and easy-to-maintain home for your chosen fish, taking the time to do some research and get things right at the setup stage will save you a lot of headaches later on.

Here, we take a look at some of the essential first steps to setting up an aquarium at home.

Tank Position

Before buying a tank, make sure you have the appropriate space in your home. Positioning is very important to ensure the health and wellbeing of the fish, so it’s important to get it right.

Ideally, the position of the tank should be:

  • Out of direct sunlight – algae can be a major problem if you choose a sunny spot, so make sure it’s positioned in the shade.
  • Away from radiators and other objects that affect temperature – fish are hugely sensitive to temperature, so try to find a spot where there’ll be no sudden changes.
  • Away from loud noises or vibration – fish can become stressed when subjected to loud noises, so installing your tank within earshot of anything noisy is a big no-no. Be mindful of knocks at the door and vibrations too, as these can also have a negative effect.

Tank Size and Style

When you’ve found the ideal site for your tank, you can then measure up and work out how big an aquarium you could feasibly go for. Ideally, you should go for as big a tank as you can fit in your space; the roomier the better. There are a couple of reasons why a big tank can be a bonus, including:

  • Healthy fish – the bigger the tank, the healthier your fish. That’s because there’s a greater volume of water, so any chemicals you add for cleaning purposes will be more diluted.
  • A bigger collection (in more ways than one) ­– a bigger tank means more fish, which is no bad thing if you’re looking to build a noteworthy aquarium. Of course, it also means bigger fish, so you can add a greater variety of species.

The position of your tank may dictate the size, but there are different options when it comes to design. A traditional rectangular tank may or may not be the best fit depending on the space, so shop around until you find the ideal size and shape. A good pet or aquarium supply store will be able to advise on the best tank for your needs depending on the space and money you have to play with.

Designing and Building Your Tank

As well as the tank itself, you’ll need some interesting features to help fill it up. Rocks, plants and pebbles not only look attractive and help give your aquarium a realistic look, but they also help certain species to live as naturally as possible within an enclosed environment.

When buying add-ons and furniture for your aquarium, be strategic and don’t go overboard. You’re looking to fill the tank with interesting features, without cluttering it up for the fish. Remember, you’ll also need additional features like a filter and lighting, as well as a heater if you plan on keeping tropical fish.

Tips on Filling Your Aquarium with Fish

It’s easy to get carried away with the idea of stocking your aquarium with a smorgasbord of tropical fish, but it’s important not to overdo things. Some fish are easier for beginners to care for than others, making them the ideal starter species until you have the confidence to add more challenging, and dare we say needy, varieties.

Of course, this doesn’t mean you’re restricted to the usual goldfish or guppies; there are lots of fish you can care for as a beginner aquarist without feeling out of your depth. Here, we take a look at a handful of fish which are ideal for beginner collectors.

Danios

These playful freshwater fish are a dream for novice aquarium keepers, providing bags of personality, colour and charm. Native to Asia, slender danios are part of the minnows and carps family, and are characterised by their vivid patterns and energetic tank persona.

Neon tetra

The name alone tells you all you need to know about this adorable fish species. Colourful, bright and active, they’re an inexpensive and hardy option for beginner aquarium builders. Our advice is to buy a decent collection of tetras; when they swim as a school, they put on quite the show.

Mollies

If you have space in your tank, mollies are a worthy addition, being slightly bigger than most other easy-to-maintain freshwater species. Available in a variety of shapes and colours, mollies are similar to guppies, and often have an over-sized tailfin in an attractive array of colours.

Pajama Cardinalfish

If you’re looking to jump straight in at the deep end and add tropical species into your aquarium, a great starter variety has to be the pajama cardinalfish. These attractive saltwater fish, native to the tropical waters of Fiji, Indonesia and Sri Lanka, are easy to care for, providing the perfect introduction to the demands of keeping tropical species.

Whichever fish you choose for your aquarium, there are hundreds of options available, each offering its own unique attributes and characteristics. The trick is to plan your collection carefully, ensuring a balanced and safe environment for every species in your tank. Your local vet or an experienced aquarium specialist can advise on the best species based on your requirements.

How to Maintain and Take Care of Your Aquarium

While an entire guide could be dedicated to cleaning and maintaining an aquarium, we’ve pulled together some of the essential need-to-knows below, so you have an idea of the realities of aquarium keeping.

Let’s take a look at the basics of aquarium maintenance:

  • Water conditioning – tap water isn’t suitable for aquariums; it needs conditioning first to balance the pH and remove chlorine. Regular use of a water conditioning supplement is required to keep your fish happy and healthy.
  • Filtration – constant filtration is vital to keep your aquarium liveable, healthy and breathable. But no matter how fancy your filter, it will only work efficiently if you keep on top of your tank’s cleanliness and upkeep. You’ll need to check your tank regularly to ensure the filter is working properly and the tank is free from visible dirt and debris.
  • Replenishing water minerals ­– over time, the nutrient and mineral content of your aquarium will diminish, leaving your fish vulnerable to ill-health. While cleanliness is key to water quality, replenishing minerals and nutrients with a supplementary additive can also work wonders for maintaining a healthy environment.
  • Temperature maintenance ­­– as we touched on above, fish are hugely sensitive to temperature change, so it’s vital you monitor this in your tank. Of course, the temperature requirements will depend on the fish you opt to keep, but installing and maintaining a heater may be necessary for some species.

What to Do When You Can No Longer Maintain an Aquarium

As with caring for any animal, there may come a time when you feel you can longer care for and maintain your aquarium. There are lots of reasons for this, which is why it’s so important to thoroughly research species before purchasing, and carefully consider all the work involved in building an aquarium at home.

At Blue Planet Aquarium, we’re sometimes approached by home aquarists who are looking to donate fish to our centre because they can no longer give them the care they need. On occasion, we’re able to take in such animals, but not always, which perfectly illustrates the challenges of rehoming aquarium fish.

As we mentioned, there are many reasons why you may feel you can no longer maintain your aquarium, including:

  • The tank is too small, and your fish have outgrown it
  • The cost of maintaining an aquarium is impacting your finances
  •  You don’t have time to care for the aquarium
  •  Animals have been put together that don’t suit, and they’re harming one another
  • The animals have lived too long and you don’t want them anymore (often the case with turtles)

All these motives demonstrate why research is so important before committing to building an aquarium. Remember, fish are living animals that require time and dedication to care for, so you should never go into aquarium keeping lightly.

For more information on the realities of keeping fish at home, check out The Big Fish Campaign, a charity which promotes responsible aquarium keeping.

We hope this guide proves helpful if you’re hoping to install your very own DIY aquarium. Prefer the real thing? Let our experts show you how it’s done as part of a memorable day out at Blue Planet Aquarium. For more information and tickets, visit the homepage.